IT took modest Finn Valtteri Bottas 82 Grands Prix to score his first Formula One win, but the Russian GP was a sad one for Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo.
The popular Perth racer retired on lap 5 of the 52-lap race when the right rear brake of his Red Bull caught fire, a problem similar to that experienced by teammate Max Verstappen in Bahrain a fortnight ago.
Bottas, in only his fourth drive for Mercedes, started third on the 19-car grid but shot past Ferrari front-rowers Sebastien Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen at the first corner of the fast, flowing circuit at Sochi, an ancient city nestled between the Black Sea and majestic snow-capped mountains, and he was never again headed.
But his five-second lead narrowed to just 0.6 seconds at the end after he flat-spotted a tyre on lap 39 and was steadily caught by a strong-finishing Vettel.
A first lap collision between Romain Grosjean in a Haas and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer resulted in a few laps under the safety car and Ricciardo’s Red Bull suffered its brake problem soon after.
Teammate Verstappen drove well but the Red Bull was no match for the Mercedes and Ferraris and the young Dutch star finished fifth, more than a minute behind Bottas, who received his trophy from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Second and third were Vettel and Raikkonen, with Mercedes’ Hamilton well back, but secure in fourth.
Then came Verstappen, the two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, Nico Hulkenberg eighth for Renault while Felipe Massa (Williams) and Carlos Sainz Jnr in the Toro Rosso took the final points.
“The start felt pretty good initially,” Ricciardo later said.
“After the safety car I looked in my mirror to see where the Force India was and I noticed that the right rear brake was on fire.
“I reported it to the team and they told me to bring the car back to the pits slowly. Unfortunately it could not be fixed and I had to retire. It’s frustrating.
“We don’t know how much the new package will give us until we get it on track in a few weeks but we are hoping Barcelona is the first step to getting closer to the leaders.”
Team principal Christian Horner said the brake problem was a real disappointment that needed thorough exploration.
“At a circuit that we know doesn’t play to our strengths at least we got to our optimum with Max (Verstappen) and hopefully in Barcelona we can start making some progress,” he said.
The Spanish GP is on May 14.